The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council has filed a fair housing complaint against the city of Berkeley. The complaint stems from a dispute over the type of identification needed for occupancy permits in Berkley.
According to city ordinances, individuals can use U.S. or foreign issued IDs to apply for permits needed to live in Berkeley.
But in December, three people who live in Berkeley went to the city hall and attempted to apply for occupancy permits with foreign identification and were denied. St. Louis Public Radio reached out to the city for comment and was referred to the city’s lawyer, Donnell Smith. Smith says it’s his understanding that the permits were denied because the IDs presented were not authentic, which he defines as being “issued by some agency of a country that’s a legitimate state agency,” not because they were foreign.
Kalila Jackson, staff attorney at the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, says the documents given to the city were authentic and that a city employee refused to accept the identification because it was issued by a foreign government.
According to Jackson, the landlord and her renters went to city hall on Dec. 4 to apply for an occupy permit. When they requested paperwork, a city employee asked for identification. The residents presented foreign issued IDs, including a passport, a driver's license and a voter identification card. The city employee said that the documents were not acceptable and denied them the permit.
Jackson returned with the landlord the next day along with representatives Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates to try to resolve the issue.
In speaking with the same employee who denied the permits the previous day, Jackson said she asked what types of IDs the city would accept. She was given a list of “valid” identification required for any city transaction.
“It says state or U.S. issued driver’s license. It allows for a green card or a United States passport. Those are the only forms of acceptable identification,” Jackson says.
Jackson says the city does not have any ordinance in place that limits occupancy permits based on immigration status.
We tried to contact the city employee involved in the incident and were referred to the city’s lawyer. He said “if it’s an identification that can be verified by a legitimate agency whether domestic or foreign that the city would accept that form of identification.”
Jackson says the group also encountered the mayor of Berkeley when they were in city hall. In an exchange captured on video the Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins makes several comments to the group about their application.
“Until you get, show us, citizenship don't come back here applying for an application for occupancy permit,” Hoskins says in video. “And you can take it all the way to wherever you want to take it.”
We reached out to the mayor for comments on the video. He said he refused to comment on a video he said he was unaware was being taken.
Jackson says they were unable to reach an understanding with the city outside of court, which is why they filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We filed a total of five claims against the city for both intentional discrimination as well as discriminatory statements, threats and harassment,” Jackson said.
A Fading Trend
Fair housing complaints centered around immigration status and discrimination against national identity are not unique. In most cases, these complaints are in municipalities that have ordinances aimed at restricting housing access to immigrants, which does not included Berkeley.
Valley Park passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished landlords and business owners who employed or rented to illegal immigrants. After a lawsuit, the ordinance was eventually repealed.
Richard Middleton, associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and adjunct professor of law at the Saint Louis University school of law, says many of the ordinances were in response to a perceived lack of federal enforcement of immigration policy.
“The crux of this began in the early 2000s and most of this type of anti-immigration state and local immigration ordinances has waned off in the past few years,” he said. “Most of it has been struck down by state and federal courts and governmental jurisdiction have spent a lot of money in legal fees attempting to defend these measures and they’ve been losing. Most states and municipalities have lost almost wholesale,” he said.
Middleton says although Berkeley does not have an ordinance like many of the cities that have faced fair housing complaints centered around immigration, he’s surprised the city would expose themselves to legal liability and cost and is not working with the advocacy groups.